Earlier this week, Steve Schreiber looked back at the five most memorable Mets moments in Subway Series history. Here we present the next five most memorable. This is a B-team if you will, games that are not nearly as renowned but still worth remembering among the Mets faithful.
1. June 28, 1998
Shea Stadium got its first chance to host the Subway Series in 1998, and the visitors treated it like home, taking the first two games in commanding fashion. The opener on June 26 was particularly brutal, as Bobby Valentine inexplicably asked righty reliever Mel Rojas to protect a slim 4-3 lead against lefty batter Paul O'Neill. The outfielder took Rojas deep for a three-run homer, and the Yankees skated away with an 8-4 win.
The finale brought a pitchers' duel between Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and Masato Yoshii. The Mets struck first when Carlos Baerga collected an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, but the Yankees equalized on a Scott Brosius solo shot in the top of the seventh. The game stayed knotted at 1 into the bottom of the ninth, when Baerga led things off by chopping a hit over Tino Martinez's glove for a double. One sac bunt and one intentional walk later, Luis Lopez hit a fly ball to right field, more than deep enough for Baerga to tag up and score the winning run.
With the Mets, though, things are seldom so easy. Paul O'Neill caught the fly, but was so sure the game was over he lollipopped his relay throw back to the infield. A more alert Derek Jeter snared the relay and noticed Brian McRae, who'd been on first and had also assumed the game was over, was wandering leisurely in the infield. Jeter fired a throw to Martinez, which the first baseman bobbled before slapping the bag with his bare hand. Umpire Bruce Dreckman called out McRae, saying he'd been doubled off the base. That seemed to indicate the game was still tied and would go to extra innings.
Dreckman's curious call drew an immediate protest from Mets manager Bobby Valentine, who insisted that Baerga had crossed the plate well before this "play" happened, which meant it never really happened at all. (Replays bore this out.) After a few angry, nail biting minutes, Dreckman conferred with his fellow umpires, and the consensus agreed with Valentine's view. Finally, officially, and bizarrely, the Mets had collected the first walkoff win in Subway Series history.
2. June 6, 1999
The Mets went into the 1999 season with high hopes, having made a flurry of big, expensive signings in the offseason that were supposed to punch their ticket to the playoffs. Those hopes were nearly extinguished by an eight-game losing streak beginning at the tail end of May, the last two losses coming in the initial games of the Bronx leg of the Subway Series. The front office panicked and fired three of Bobby Valentine's coaches, hoping he'd take a hint and quit. Valentine didn't bite and insisted the Mets would turn things around. He even pinned a number on it: The Mets would win 40 of their next 55 games, he insisted, or he should be fired.
In order to end their slide, the Mets would have to do it against Roger Clemens, winner of an American League-record 20 decisions in a row. They'd also have to do it behind Al Leiter, who'd signed a big contract over the winter to be the Mets' ace but had pitched like anything but one so far that season. The odds didn't seem in the Mets' favor, but their luck finally began to change on this night.
The Mets' offense held up its end of the bargain by torching The Rocket, scoring four runs against him in the second and three more in the third to chase Clemens from the game. The big blow was a monster shot in the top of the third off the bat of Mike Piazza that landed in the Yankees' bullpen. Desperate to turn around the season for his team and himself, Leiter limited the Yankees to one run and four hits over seven innings.
The Mets' 7-2 win salvaged the Subway Series, and saved their season. In the ensuing months, they reeled off one of the hottest stretches in franchise history and fulfilled Valentine's prophecy to the letter by winning 40 of their next 55 games.
3. July 9, 1999
The Mets were in the midst of that aforementioned hot streak when the Yankees visited Shea Stadium in July. The first game of the Queens leg of the Subway Series featured a rematch of Leiter vs. Rocket, and was knotted at 2 in the bottom of the sixth when Edgardo Alfonzo led things off with a single. Roger Clemens seemed wary of pitching to the next batter, John Olerud, who'd launched a solo shot off the scoreboard in right field back in the third inning. He pitched the first baseman exceedingly carefully and walked him, which was not a very smart thing to do when the next batter was Mike Piazza.
For the second time that season, Piazza took Clemens deep, hitting a laser-beam three run homer into the left field bleachers to put the Mets on top. Leiter cruised through the seventh and eighth, and though Armando Benitez would bring the tying run to plate in the ninth, he struck out pinch hitter Chili Davis to cap a thrilling 5-2 Mets victory.
4. June 15, 2007
As so often happens at Subway Series time, the Yankees and Mets faced off in 2007 as the former was firing on all cylinders (winners of nine in a row) and the latter was sputtering (losers of five). In the series opener, Roger Clemens made his second start since his OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS return from retirement and was looking for his 350th career win. The Rocket pitched better than he normally did against the Mets, holding them to two runs in 6 2/3 innings. Those were two runs too many, however, and both were driven in by Jose Reyes. The shortstop plated the first Mets run with a third inning single to center. When he came up again in the fifth, Reyes belted Clemens' first pitch curveball off the upper deck facade.
That proved enough for Oliver Perez, the erratic lefty who, for all his other sins, could somehow do no wrong against the Yankees. The other key player was Carlos Gomez. When Perez walked two men and gave up a long fly ball to right in the fourth, Gomez leaped at the fence to steal a sure home run. The lead runner, Hideki Matsui, had nearly reached third by the time Gomez made his catch, and was soon doubled off second to end the inning. Later, Gomez ended Clemens' evening by pushing a bunt between first and the mound and beating him to the bag.
Perez pitched brilliantly into the eighth inning, and the bullpen shut the door in a 2-0 squeaker. After the game, Clemens was left to wonder where Jeffrey Maier had been when he needed him. "I’m wondering where that fan is that leans over and catches balls," Clemens said. "We need one of them young fans again."
5. June 26, 2008
Both the Mets and Carlos Delgado were in rough shape when they arrived in the Bronx in 2008. The team's early struggles had cost Willie Randolph his job, while the slugger was mired in an 0-for-14 slump. But Delgado broke out in a big way against Yankee pitching, hitting two home runs, driving in a team-record nine runs, and leading the charge in a 15-6 drubbing. Since the game was a makeup of postponed one back in May, and the Mets had won the first two of that set, the win meant the Mets had (technically) swept the Yankees in the Bronx for the very first time.
Honorable mention: June 11, 2000
The Subway Series game scheduled for this date was delayed by rain and later postponed. This later led to a two-stadium doubleheader that would end with Roger Clemens beaning Mike Piazza, giving him a concussion and preventing him from starting in the All Star Game.
That infamy was still far in the future while the raindrops fell on Yankee Stadium, and Robin Ventura took the occasion to treat the crowd to his own Rain Delay Theater. Ventura was known for uniting his teammates with his humor and leadership (the "Mojo Rising" rallying cry of 1999 was his idea), but preferred to do so in the clubhouse, away from the prying eyes of the public. On this evening, he took his performance out of previews.
The third baseman donned one of Mike Piazza's jersey, painted on a mustache with eye-black, and marched onto the soaked tarp to deliver his best impression of the catcher's flamboyant batting rituals. He then careened around the bases in Piazza's lumbering, arm-pumping style, sliding across the tarp headfirst as he went, to the delight of the Mets' bench and the remaining damp crowd.
In those early days of the Subway Series, the Mets-Yankees games were fraught with an unbelievable amount of tension. Ventura's antics reminded everyone that they were just games, after all.